Friday, December 30, 2016

Entering Mindfulness of Feelings

Liberation through Feelings.

These are notes from Chapter 11 in Joseph Goldstein’s book, “Mindfulness.”

The purpose of these teaching is freeing the mind from suffering.
It is about liberation
not just:
·      Getting more comfortable in our lives
·      Or sorting out our personal histories
These might be helpful
But this exploration is about the larger questions of birth, aging, disease, and death
And how we can be free in this great cyclical wheel of existence.

The Buddha begins this section with:
“And how, Bhikkhus, does one in regard to feelings, abide contemplating feelings?”

what is meant by the word feelings which is the English translation of the Pali word vedana?

14 different meanings of feelings in the Webster dictionary.
·      Emotions
·      Physical sensations
·      Opinions or attitudes
·      Etc.

In Buddhism, feelings is more narrowly defined with a specific meaning
Mindfulness of feeling is one of the master keys that both reveals and unlocks the deepest patterns of our conditioning.

Vedana specifically refers to
·      Pleasantness
·      Unpleasantness
·      Neutrality
With the content of each moment’s experience
            These feelings are both physical and mental phenomena

Feelings and conditioned response

Feelings is used in
·      The four foundations of mindfulness
·      As one of the five aggregates of existence
·      As a key link in the teaching of dependent origination
Because feelings condition our various responses in the mind and actions in the world.

If we are not mindful:
Pleasant feelings habitually condition desire and clinging
Unpleasant feelings condition dislike and aversion
Neutral feelings condition delusion
            That is, not really knowing what is going on
These same feelings are the vehicle to our freedom.

A trained and untrained mind
·      The uninstructed worldling
·      The instructed noble disciple

Usually in an untrained mind:
·      The first dart is contact with a painful feeling
·      The second dart is our unpleasant mental reaction to the first dart, producing more suffering
·      With more suffering, we try to seek delight in sensual pleasure

We need to be mindful of the original feeling tone.
Many of our actions throughout the day come from trying to avoid negative feelings.

In later chapters we will explore the teaching of the enjoyment of sense pleasure
·      Gratification
·      The danger
·      The escape from sense pleasures
For now, let’s just say, sense pleasures are transient, they are not a refuge from suffering.

The Buddha:
“Being contacted by that same painful feeling, one harbors no aversion to it…
Being contacted by painful feeling, one does not seek delight in sensual pleasure…
If one feels a pleasant feeling, one feels it detached.
If one feels a painful feeling, one feels it detached.
If one feels a neither-painful-nor pleasant feeling, one feels it detached.

This, bhikkhus, is called a noble disciple who is detached from birth, ageing and death; who is detached from sorrow, pain, displeasure and despair, who is detached from suffering.

This, bhikkhus, is the distinction, the disparity, the difference between the instructed noble disciple and the uninstructed worldling.”

Desirable things do not provoke one’s mind,
Towards the undesired one has no aversion.

There is a difference with
            Just staying with the first dart and feeling it
And then, noticing the distraction and exaggeration that happens with our reactions to the first dart,  we get lost in our reactions.

The difference between the initial unpleasant sensations, and being lost in reactivity, starts to become clear.

Why does our mind cling to the reactivity of patterns of fear and hope.
            Fear that the painful feelings would go on forever
            And hope that they would finally go away.
Why doesn’t the mind just naturally rest in the ease of mindful awareness?
Why don’t we just come back to the sensations of the present moment?

It is possible to retrain the mind
We can see the power and depth of our habituated responses.
It is possible to make an end to suffering by abandoning these tendencies.

Moment-to-moment awareness of feelings.

We may say, How could this be possible, abandoning clinging to desire and aversion?
Buddha says, this is something we can do and that we do it in the moment.

In the moment we say,
When feeling a pleasant feeling, one knows, “I feel a pleasant feeling.”
When feeling an unpleasant feeling, one knows, “I feel an unpleasant feeling.”
When feeling a neutreal feeling, one knows, “I feel a neutral feeling.”

It is a simple, direct, and clear recognition of the feeling aspect of experience.
We don’t need to analyze, judge, compare, or even particularly to understand why these feelings are happening,.
Its simply to know that
·      Pleasant feelings are like this
·      Unpleasant feelings are like this
·      Neutral feelings are like this.

This is a mindfulness practice. 
Just noting pleasant, unpleasant, neutral.
Seeing the transient nature of feelings.
Or the practice of:
            I like this, I don’t like this
            Noticing the feelings that preceded these judgments

Seeing the changing nature of feelings

From noticing the quickly changing nature of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral
We can have more direct insight into their impermanent nature

Through seeing how transient the feelings are, changing all the time
We can become less identified with them
            Less attached, less fearful

From Buddha:
Just as many diverse winds
Blow back and forth across the sky,
Easterly winds and westerly winds,
Northerly winds and southerly winds,
Dusty winds and dustless winds,
Sometimes cold, sometimes hot,
Those that are strong and others mild-
Winds of many kinds that blow;

So in the very body here,
Various kinds of feelings arise,
Pleasant ones and painful ones,
And those neither painful nor pleasant.

But when a bhikkhu who is ardent
Does not neglect clear comprehension,
Then that wise one fully understands
Feelings in their entirety.

Having fully understood feelings,
One is taintless in this very life.
Standing in dhamma, with the body’s breakup,
The knowledge-master cannot be reckoned.

Training the mind

Training the mind in observation of different feelings and in non-reactivity
·      Do we indulge or resist?
·      Are we mindful and non-reactive?
·      Can we see clearly the impermanent nature of reality?
·      How do we react to the unpleasant?
·      How does the mind react to illness?
o   Buddha:  “you should train like this: my body may be sick yet my mind will remain unafflicted.
Can we train our minds for dying which can be uncomfortable and unpleasant?  We can learn to be at peace or ease even with uncomfortable feelings.

It is not the objects in our life that are MAKING us annoyed.
Its our reactions to the objects that we can practice with.
            It is our attachment or aversion to the object that is producing our distress
            Not the object itself.

Buddha said:
“Whatever feeling one feels, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neither-painful-nor pleasant,
One abides contemplating
·      Impermanence in those feelings
·      Contemplating fading away
·      Contemplating relinquishment.
Contemplating thus, one does not cling to anything in this world.  When one does not cling, one is not agitated.  When one is not agitated, one personally attains Nibbana.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Corpse in Decay

These are notes on the end of chapter 10, mindfulness of physical characteristic in the Joseph Goldstein’s book “Mindfulness”.

The last section of mindfulness of the body is the contemplation of corpses in various states of decay.

Buddha’s contemplation in the sutta is:

Again, monks, as though he were to see a corpse thrown aside in a charnel ground –
·      One, two, or three days dead, bloated, livid, and oozing matter
·      Being devoured by crows, hawks, vultures, dogs, jackals or various kinds of worms
·      A skeleton with flesh and blood, held together with sinews
·      Disconnected bones scattered in all directions
·      Bones bleached white, the color of shells
·      Bones heaped up, more than a year old
·      Bones rotten and crumbled to dust
He compares this same body with it thus: ‘this body too is of the same nature, it will be like that,  it is not exempt from that fate.’

This may help with attachment to the body and to the understanding of aging, sickness and death and looking directly at nature at work.  This is what is true for all living beings.

Goldstein mentions contemplating and looking carefully at animals killed on the road by passing cars.  It’s not a very pleasant sight.  This contemplation helps us open to the universal truth of death and decay.  The point here is not to become morbidly obsessed, but rather to use and care for the body without the underlying attachment to it.

My additions:

The Zen admonition at the end of the day:
The Evening message
I beg to urge you everyone,
Life and death is a great matter,
All things pass quickly away.
Awaken, awaken, take heed
Make use of this precious life.

And a story from Katagiri Roshi.

Katagiri Roshi was at Green Gulch Farm in California.  A deer got badly hurt in the fencing that Green Gulch Farms has around their gardens.  People were thinking about a mercy killing to help the deer who was obviously dying.  Katagiri Roshi suggested that the students have a vigil, meditating with the deer, helping the deer in that prayerful way, and contemplating the stages of death. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Mindfulness of "I am"

Continuing to study “Mindfulness” by Joseph Goldstein.   These are notes.
This portion is in the middle of chapter 10, “Mindfulness of physical characteristics”

“Conceit” in its Buddhist usage, refers to the deeply rooted sense of “I am”, “I was”, or “I will be.”

This is the last of the veils of ignorance that needs to be removed before full awakening.

Studying the elements breaks down conceit.
In seeing the body as a collection of parts, none of which by themselves are particularly alluring, and then experiencing the body simply as an interplay of elements, the conceit of “I am” falls away.

Bhikkhu Nanananda spoke to this conceit of taking the elements as to be a self as “the misappropriation of public property.”

Contemplation of the elements leads to a radically different vision, where we go beyond even the concept of “being.”
When we split up the body as “just the elements”, we begin to lose the concept of a being or a person.  We begin to lose the sense of a solid body and only the feeling of sensation in space and the other elements are known.

From The Path of Purification, 5th century AD:

This bhikkhu who is devoted to the defining of the four elements is immersed in voidness and eliminates the perception of living beings….Because he has abolished the perception of living beings, he conquers fear and dread, and conquers delight and aversion (boredom), he is not exhilarated or depressed by agreeable or disagreeable things, and as one of great understanding, he either ends in the deathless realm or he is bound for a happy destiny.

Relative and Ultimate Truth

Through our practice of the four elements, we open a doorway to understanding two overarching principles that frame twenty-six hundred years of Buddhist Wisdom.

Relative truth – conventional world of subject and object, self and other, birth and death.  All of our familiar experiences.

The Ultimate truth sees this same world quite differently - there is no subject-object separation, in fact, there is no “things”.  It is the deepest aspect of the unmanifest, the uncreated, the unborn and the undying.

Goldstein likens it to a movie theater.  The movie and the story in the movie are a relative truth and for a while we see it as “real”.  But when we see the over-view that it is light playing on a screen, that it is projected from a little box, we see that it doesn’t really exist.  So too is the play of relative and absolute in Buddhist understanding.

So, in life, everything is a play of momentary, changing elements.

Don’t grieve for that which is non-existent.
From the Sutta Nipata:

Dry out that which is past, let there be nothing for you in the future.  If you do not grasp at anything in the present you will go about at peace.  One who, in regard to this entire mind/body complex, has no cherishing of it as “mine,” and who does not grieve for what is non-existent truly suffers no loss in the world.  For that person there is no thought of anything as “this is mine: or “this is another’s”; not finding any state of ownership, and realizing, “nothing is mine,” he does not grieve.

The contemplation of the elements opens up the idea that an “I” is separated from everything else.

The caution:
Getting stuck in the ultimate reality and losing the “ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows” of relative life is a very limited view of this understanding.

Nagarjuna, 2nd century, wrote:

“It is sad to see those who mistakenly believe in material, concrete reality, but far more pitiful are those who are attached to emptiness.”

Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche further elaborates on this potential pitfall of attachment to emptiness:

“Those who believe in things can be helped through various kinds of practice, through skillful means – but those who fall into the abyss of emptiness find it almost impossible to re-emerge, since there seem to be no handholds, no steps, no gradual progression, nothing to do.”

A mature spiritual practice sees the union of the relative and ultimate levels, with each informing and expressing the other.

The four divine abodes – lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity – are all based on the conceptual level of beings.
At the same time, the deeper our understanding of selflessness, the freer and more spontaneous are these beautiful mind states.

On the relative level – love and compassion are states we cultivate.
On the ultimate level, they are the responsive nature of the mind itself.  When we recognize the empty nature of phenomena, the energy to bring about the good of others dawns uncontrived and effortless.

In a humble way,
We have a motivation to practice not for ourselves alone but for the sake of others.

His holiness the Dalai Lama said:

“I cannot pretend that I am really able to practice bodhicitta, but it does give me tremendous inspiration.  Deep inside me I realize how valuable and beneficial it is, that is all.”

We can plants these seeds of aspiration in ourselves without pretension and without grandiose expectations.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Post Election Practices #2

Post-Election #2

I have been studying and writing again about Jizo Bodhisattva.  Again and again, this archetypal energy inspires me.  I found it particularly inspiring in helping me practice during the current political climate.  If you are in my tribe of politics, the situation right now is disappointing, paralyzing, depressing or worse, as each of us reacts in our own ways.

So I find studying Jizo Bodhisattva again has shown me a way to practice.  Jizo is an energetic archetype that I can tape into and begin to work from a different place in myself.

A bodhisattva is a person who has found relief for themselves in this world but has made a vow to help others before they themselves become fully enlightened or a non-returner.  A bodhisattva serves others, forgetting the self.  A bodhisattvas’ suffering is no longer bound up in self-criticism or self-absorption.

Jizo bodhisattva is often paired with Kannon or Avalokiteshevara, the bodhisattvas of compassion.  But Jizo has a slightly different take.  This is compassion and service work that is specifically directed to the reflection of great suffering.  Jizo goes willingly into hell, into the worst situations, to help others in any way he or she can.

I love the image of jizo’s staff.  Since Jizo is associated especially with the transitions in life and in particularly, Jizo helps with the transmigration of the 6 realms of existence. On the top of his staff are 6 dangling moveable circles, which represent the six realms.  As she walks, the circles clink and make a soft noise.  The shaking of this staff and the sound of the tinkling, can open the doors to hell and Jizo willingly enters hell to help people.

What qualities do we have to have to enter hell?  Certainly, my small ego doesn’t want to enter hell.  I’m often in my own hell!  Why would I bother to enter someone else’s hell?  If I rely only on my self, my story and my frontal lobe, I fall apart in hell.  But if I can tap into my larger self, my Buddha self, the largest perspective I know, then basically I can handle anything.  If I can let go of my opinions, my ideals, my constructed reality, then I can enter hell and its just another moment to deal with.  In that moment, I can react with kindness to what is in front of me.  Kindness and presence helps all situations.  But, and this is a big but, our practice of having a big mind has to have matured and developed before we enter a problematic situation.  This endurance and strength is not instantaneous. It is developed.  Zazen and sesshin (Zen’s extended sitting retreats) are one way of developing our resilience to staying with pain and staying in the moment.  As this practice gets developed, then, we are free to go anywhere and help. With this practice we can manage our overwhelming feelings and stay in activities that might produce a solution to the problems.

Even our fear of death is not a reason to be paralyzed.  Our fear of death has to be abandoned.  Like the Heart Sutra says: “When the mind has no hindrance, there is no fear.”

So here are Jizo Bodhisattva’s qualities:

Benevolence and compassion
Supreme or radical optimism
Unflagging determination
Taking full responsibility and teaching karma
Active engagement in life
No fear – stepping into the unknown as we die
Patron saint of lost causes
            There are no lost causes only people caught in ignorance.

What follows is the great Koan!  How do we have Supreme or radical optimism in the face of the current political climate?  Our task at hand, if we wish to emulate Jizo Bodhisattva, is to continue under any circumstances.  Radical optimism goes beyond our usual way of thinking.  Certainly for me, who grew up in a time of doomsday visions, or for my sons who watch TV and movies about the apocalypse where we all end up as zombies, radical optimism is a strange concept.  What do we have to do in our minds and hearts in order to have radical optimism?  I guess that’s why it’s called radical.  This optimism is only perceived through Buddha’s eyes.

The next quality is unflagging determination.  One maturation of our practice is that nothing stops us from doing the right thing or from doing that which our particular karma allows us to do.  We can go beyond our usual complacent selves, reach out, and help in ways we hadn’t foreseen.  Unflagging determination.  We continue even if we don’t see the results we want to see.  Part of Buddhist practice is to work without attachment to result, continuously.

The last quality, which makes me smile, is – the Patron Saint of Lost Causes.  Jizo doesn’t give up.  He continues ceaselessly to help the world even though the world is often royally disturbed.  This is samsara, continuously difficult, and continuously barking up the wrong tree.  The world of our ego-centricity is always barking up the tree of greed, anger and ignorance.  But we can keep attending to this lost cause and keep trying to work from a different basis of operation in our minds.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Mindfulness of the elements

These are notes from Joseph Goldstein’s book “mindfulness.”
The second half of Chapter 9, Mindfulness of activities.

The elements

“Again, monks, one reviews this same body, however it is placed, however disposed, as consisting of elements thus: ‘in this body there are the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element.’”

The four basic qualities of matter – earth, water, fire and air
In modern science we might use the more familiar terms of:
·      Solid
·      Liquid
·      Plasma
·      Gas

In our ordinary way of perceiving things, the four material states are a useful way of describing our subjective felt sense of the body and the physical world.

It is also possible through the attainment of a jhana, a high degree of concentrated absorption, to experience the body on extremely subtle levels far beyond our usual level of perceptions.   The four elements can be used in this subtle perception.
It would be interesting if a modern scientist were able to compare our contemporary way of describing the smallest particles of matter with these meditative perceptions.

Earth element
·      Stiffness, hardness or softness
Water element
The qualities of cohesion and fluidity
Like water turns flour into dough
It is what holds all the other elements together
Its not seen separately
Fire element
Temperature – hot and cold
Or lightness in the body
Fire functions in different ways
·      It is how something is warmed.
·      It is how things age
·      In excessive heat, it burns things up
·      Digestive heat,  the heat of the “stomach fire”
·      In Asian medicine there are three fires in the body
o   Ancestral fire, reproduction and heredity
o   Digestive fire – heating and using food
o   Heart fire – the warmth of our emotions
The air element
Causes movement in the body
The feeling of extension, expanding, distending.
Also the feeling of pressure
For example, in meditation, regarding the rise and fall of the abdomen is contemplating the movement of the air element.

Contemplation of the Elements
There are many exercises in different traditions to contemplate the elements.
Joseph Goldstein suggests to be mindful of them generally

We can undertake the contemplation of the elements in different ways,
Each one leading us to direct insight into the three characteristics
·      Dukkha, dissatisfaction
·      Impermanence, constant change
·      No centralized self, no-self
Understanding the three characteristics in turn leads to freeing the mind from clinging.

In meditation, we move from the concept of body as a solid thing to the awareness of the body as a changing energy field.  We are moving through the elements. On this level, the sense of the body as being something solid and substantial disappears.

When we lift the foot, the lightness that we feel in the foot and leg is the fire element.
When we’re pushing the foot forward and feeling movement and pressure, we are feeling the air element.
When placing the foot on the ground and feel the hardness or softness, we are feeling the earth element.

In our everyday notion of the body, we might say, “I feel my leg”.  But there is no sensation called “leg”.  Rather what we feel are certain sensations, like pressure, heaviness, and lightness, and then we create an image or concept: “leg”.

In mindful precision, we illuminate the body as the interplay of these four elements.

As we free ourselves from the concept of “body” and increasingly experience the direct felt sense of it, the mind becomes less prone to attachment and to the desire, aversion, and conceit that come from it.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Mindfulness of Physical Characteristics

These are notes taken from Joseph Goldstein’s book “Mindfulness”.  These are the first section from Chapter 10, Mindfulness of physical Characteristics.

We study the body to take us beyond the concept of “body” as “self”.
This chapter studies the body in
·      Anatomical parts
·      The elements
·      And the body’s nature of impermanence, to decay and then die.

What is the body, through contemplation of its anatomical parts.

“Again, monks, one reviews this same body up from the soles of the feet and down from the top of the hair, enclosed by skin, as full of many kinds of impurity thus:
‘in this body there are head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, bowels, mesentery, contents of the stomach, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, snot, oil of the joints, and urine.’”

Why would the Buddha want to contemplate the parts of the body that are called in Pali, the asubha or the non-beautiful or unattractive aspects of the body?

This will diminish the strong conditioning of the mind towards lust and attachment to the body.
The body is just a collection of interrelated parts.
That which we often associate with the self – the body- is just an interdependent system of components.
So scientifically, we can allow for entropy of the different parts and systems – the thermodynamic law which says that all systems tend to disorder or to decline.
We are reminded of the impersonal and unreliable nature of the body.
Seeing clearly what the body really is:
·      Helps free us from pride and lust
·      Disparagement and fear

Personal Note:  When I was a dancer in my twenties and thirties, I studied experiential anatomy for dance and then I noticed how much it helped me with meditation, connecting through the felt sense of the body, all the different systems of the body.  This deeply increased my ability to stay with and feel my body, whether the sensations were aversive or blissful.  At first, I didn’t associate this body study with Buddhism and sometimes felt it was actually solidifying my attachment to the self.  So I was so happy when I actually found the anatomical studies in the sutras.  This Body/Mind Centering work I had been doing as a dancer required that I often spend months on feeling each system – bones, muscles, organs, breathing, nerves, etc. which I now had found in the classical teaching of Buddhism.  As I have matured as a practitioner, this subtle understanding of the systems of the body has increased my ability to enter the subtle energy body and to learn a deeper level of concentration on following the body sensations until the point where the body disappears.

At the same time, this section of the mindfulness sutra has also come under deep scrutiny because some of it implies a disgust with the body and what seems like, unintentionally strengthening an unwholesome disgust or aversion to our bodies.  Especially as a feminist, I found this hard to agree with.  It seems like the patriarchal religions of history had a need to put so-called earthly things down, like bodies, earth, women, children etc. so that they could “transcend” the very strong attachment all people have to our bodies as our “Self”.  We are strongly attached to life’s activities and often have an aversion to death.  These attachments and aversions need to be opened up before we can feel liberation.  Sometimes the contemplation of the non-beautiful qualities of the body can help liberate us from our lust and attachment to the body and its extension to the “self”.  I have learned to be less critical of this section as I contemplate the goal of freeing myself from attachment to the body and also to put this section in its historical context of ancient India and China.